More than 2,200 Catholics of the Washington Archdiocese gathered at Gonzaga College High School here last Saturday for a daylong convocation on social justice.

"We are challenging one another to put our faith to work in service to those in need and in action to protect human life and human dignity," Washington Archbishop James A. Hickey told the participants in his opening statement.

The convocation was part of an extensive two-year program called RENEW, which seeks to help Catholics understand and deepen their faith and to discover new areas of service. Hickey said that nearly 20,000 Catholics have been involved in the program for the last 18 months, "gathering in one another's homes to read the scriptures and to discuss our faith."

Coretta Scott King told the convocation in her keynote address that "we need to act on our faith, to become more deeply involved in the everyday struggles for justice."

She told the gathering that a "major interfaith tribute" is scheduled at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Jan. 19, when the birthday of her late husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is to be celebrated for the first time as a national holiday.

She urged people not to make the holiday "just a day of leisure" but to observe it as "a day when people of all races, religions, classes and stations in life put aside their differences and join in a spirit of togetherness and common purpose."

People of good will are now "the carriers" of her husband's dream of a better world, she said. "We are the people called to stand up for equality, for opportunity, for dignity and for peace."

The convocation featured more than 50 workshops on social issues ranging from parish pro-life programs to prison ministries to ministries for the homeless. The workshops were geared to helping Catholics as individuals and as parish groups find ways to tackle these and other community problems.

Hickey told the group that "work for justice is not an option for us, but a fundamental requirement of our faith."

"In fact," he said, "we cannot call ourselves the church unless we put our faith into practice in the service of others and action for justice."

During the convocation, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and two assemblymen from Southern Maryland met with their respective Catholic constituents to discuss area problems.